Tag Archives: Preaching

Holy Disruptions – A Sermon for an Installation

Gospel: Luke 4:14-21

Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. (Read the whole passage)

 *This sermon was written by The Rev. Courtenay Reedman Parker on the occasion of The Rev. Erik Parker’s Installation to a serve a new congregation.*

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Today is a day of celebration for Sherwood Park Lutheran Church, for Pastor Erik, and for the wider church as we mark the beginning of a new ministry. Today, as Pastor Erik is installed, the warranty comes off. He’s yours. You’re his. And this ministry that you have been called to officially begins. And so we gather with excitement for this new beginning, as Pastor Erik joins the ministry of Sherwood Park which is richly and deeply rooted. And with this new beginning is the anticipation for how God will work through you, and use your gifts together to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ in this time and place.

As Sherwood Park started the new calendar year with a new pastor, and Pastor Erik with a new call, the church begins the year with the festival of Epiphany, when the magi visit Jesus, bringing gifts, but also signalling the start of something new. In Jesus, God reveals not only who God is, but how God will be in relationship to all humankind. It’s kind of a big deal. So these weeks that make up the season after the Epiphany continue to share stories of the ways in which Jesus… God is revealed to us. Stories of the magi following the star to find the newborn king, of Jesus being named and claimed God’s Beloved Child through baptism on the banks of the Jordan River, of Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding at Cana, and today returning to his hometown to publicly name and claim his identity through the words of the prophet Isaiah. 

These ancient stories offer us, just like their original hearers, a vision of hopeful anticipation for who Jesus, God, is, and what the world will look like under God’s rule. So too, as a new ministry begins there is also hopeful anticipation for this new thing… this new person you have called to be your pastor, and for Pastor Erik, hopeful anticipation for this new community of Sherwood Park he has been called to serve, and the ways God will be revealed in and through you, the ways God will shape and form you for ministry together. For our family, Pastor Erik, myself, Oscar, and Maeve, there is excited anticipation for this new beginning, for new relationships, to deepen connections with some of you who we already know, and to join you all in living out God’s mission for the world.

Today we hear the first part of Luke’s account of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. Word about him is spreading. He’s trending… he’s gone viral… people are talking about what he’s doing and saying, and they are praising him – they’re liking what they see and hear – What a great text for an installation… Then Jesus returns home to Nazareth, and as he has done so many times before, goes to worship in the synagogue. But this time is different. This time, he stands up to read, he proclaims the words of Isaiah, and after says to the congregation, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Jesus is revealing himself to this congregation, to his people. He is telling them who is is and what he’s come to do: 

 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

  because he has anointed me

   to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

  and recovery of sight to the blind,

   to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

This is good news, especially if you are poor, if you are captive, blind, or oppressed. But… it’s not as good for the non-poor. Because what Jesus is announcing is the disruption of everything the people have known. A reversal of roles. The poor are released from their debt, the blind are given sight, the oppressed are now free. Which then also means the wealthy will likely need to share some of that wealth, and those with sight will see things in a new way – in ways that those of us with sight have overlooked, or not even noticed. Freedom for all means a redistribution of our roles… our power… our status. Well, when you put it that way Jesus, it doesn’t sound all that great for those of us who will have to change… to share… to examine the way we do things, and the ways in which we live together in this new reality.

This text, which begins with the people praising Jesus, concludes with the hometown crowd “filled with rage… drive Jesus out of town to the edge of a cliff” –  maybe a good thing this part of the story wasn’t included today… not the best ending… 

This isn’t to suggest Pastor Erik is Jesus  – believe me, he is many things, but he’s not Jesus. And not even Jesus could keep people pleased for long. 

But isn’t that just it? Aren’t we all for the new things God… Jesus… is up to when we are the beneficiaries? When the new thing, the change, the disruption is initiated by us?  When we are the change agents, when God’s plans also coincide with our plans things work well. It’s easy. But if we have learned anything as people of faith, it’s that rarely do God’s plans align perfectly with ours. 

Because God, Jesus, is disruptive! 

The Holy Spirit stirs us from our comfortable places and reveals God through new ideas, places, and people that on our own we likely would never have discovered. But being stirred up, is disruptive. And disruption often causes discomfort. 

Jesus’ declaration in the synagogue of who he is isn’t as flashy as the magi traveling from far off lands, or a booming voice coming down from heaven, or the miracle of turning water into wine. But make no mistake, Jesus’ announcement to the congregation at Nazareth that the Spirit of the Lord is upon him, that he is the anointed is the greatest disruption yet. New life for all. Salvation for all. Freedom and forgiveness for all. This new thing that Jesus is called to do isn’t dependent on us, but what Jesus is doing in and through us.

God has called Pastor Erik to this congregation. And God has called you to Pastor Erik. Because Pastor Erik has gifts to share with you, and you have gifts to share with him. Together, you will use your gifts and skills to build up the ministry of this congregation and the wider church. To hear God’s Word. To preach and teach the good news. To administer and receive the sacraments. To serve together in the day to day ministry of the congregation. 

And maybe (hopefully) it hasn’t happened yet that disruption and discomfort has stirred in this place. But it will. Jesus… God is doing a new thing in and through you and so disruption and discomfort is unavoidable.

The good news, is you’re not alone in your discomfort. When Paul writes to the community in Corinth, he uses the metaphor of the body to describe the interconnectedness of the church, and those of us who are a part of it. Paul writes, “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it”. That’s right, we’re in this together, even when it’s uncomfortable. But what this suggests more deeply, is that we’re in this together. Our joys. Our sorrows. Our strengths. Our weaknesses. They are all ours together. It is not a situation of one member, or one part of the body or congregation being better, stronger, more faithful, or knowledgeable than another. All of our struggles and all of our successes are together. Paul continues, “if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.”

We need one another. We cannot do this ministry God calls us to do on our own. The Body of Christ is at its strongest when it is working together. When individuals’ gifts are recognized and lifted up, used to the glory of God for the whole church – which extends beyond Sherwood Park, even beyond the MNO Synod or ELCIC, that extends to all the baptized, all over the world. 

Through our baptism, we are connected to one another in and through Jesus Christ. Which also means Jesus, God, is right with us, at the very heart of all that we do, in the good times, the bad times, the disruptive and the in-between times. God is disrupting us in order that a new thing can begin. God names and claims Jesus as the one who will bring new life. Forgiveness. Salvation. Freedom from sin and death for all. 

And so we as family, friends, as congregation, and as the wider church gather today to mark the beginning os this new thing. That this ministry is connected to something bigger than Pastor Erik, bigger than any one ministry of Sherwood Park or the congregation itself, but to the much larger Body of Christ to which we are all called to and connected to, and sent out into the world to name and proclaim God’s love to the world. AMEN. 

The Christmas that 2016 needs – What to preach this Christmas

For so many people around the world 2016 has not been a good year.

Ugly politics with fascist undertones are popping up around the globe. Terrorism, refugee crisis, wars causing civilian tragedies, virus outbreak causing birth defects, climate change catastrophes, racism, sexism, bigotry, social regression, the fraying of democracy in favour of fear and division… the lists of bad things in 2016 are everywhere.

Perhaps, like me you are about to stand in the pulpit on the biggest day of your church year and you need to preach to people who you may not see for another year and to those you see nearly everyday.

Or maybe you are about to go and hear a preacher tell the good news that the angels told the shepherds about. And what you need most is for that good news of great joy to be not just a 2000-year-old story but a 2016 story.

For many wanting to preach and to hear the good news, we are going to be pushing back against a world that wants to bury its head in the Christmas sand. Deep down we know that the good news simply won’t come from nostalgia and sentimentalism.

We know that the falling snow at the end of Christmas movies won’t save us from sin and death.

We know that a bumbling hero putting on a Santa suit to “save Christmas” is no salvation at all.

We know that perfectly roasted turkey, beautifully wrapped presents, and old time Christmas favourites wafting from the radio are not the things that truly encompass the spirit of the season.

And we also know that getting all the food on the table on time, dealing with racist uncles and navigating sleeping arrangements at the in-laws are mostly harmless problems compared to the real stuff going down all over the world.

For many of us, 2016 has been the result of a long build up. Or should I say a long descent back into the same darkness that engulfed the world of 1st Century Israel, the world of Mary and Joseph. No matter what anyone claims, the stability that much of our North American world saw in the 1950s and decades following is not coming back. (Plus women, people of colour, and religious minorities will definitely not agree that this was a golden period in the first place).

So what are we left to preach for Christmas 2016? What is the good news for us?

Well, strangely the good news announced to those shepherds might be more fitting than ever in 2016.

In fact, if there is good news to be found in midst of all the darkness we have lived through this year… it is the same good news found in the darkness of the year of Messiah’s birth.

And that is:

If God can be born to a teenage mother engaged to an older man who wasn’t the father of her baby…

If God can live under oppression of puppet kings and foreign empires…

If God can be subjected to forced migration and registration simply because of ethnicity, religion or skin colour…

If God can have no place to live or sleep, no healthcare to be born with, no community to support new parents other than shepherds (the drug dealers and street gangs of the day)…

If God can be forced to flee in fear from the murderous death squads of a fearful despot, and only have pagan lands to go to…

If God can somehow after all that manage to grow up to fullfill the mission of salvation and reconciliation of all things…

Then certainly the Messiah can come to save us in all of our darkness.

No political leader, no terrorist act, no pandemic virus, no celebrity death, no climate disaster, no  refugees crisis, no cyber attack, no amount of fear or hatred or bigotry is too dark or too much for Messiah to come and save us from.

2016 has only managed to show us just how badly we need to be saved… and Christmas reminds us just what form that salvation arrives in.

So to my colleagues and kindred preachers, find the good news in the One whom we know has already come into our darkest world.

To my sisters and brothers of faith seeking good news this year, know that our world is in exactly the state that moved God action, that moved God to enter our world in the first place.

In 2016, preach that Messiah has come into our darkness, and that Christmas finally brings us some light.


And if you are really stuck, here are two sets of Christmas Sermons:

A story for Christmas Part 1
A story for Christmas Part 2

Mary and Joseph in Al Zataari
Refugees Welcome – God Sent You


What is the good news for you in 2016? Share in the comments, or on the Facebook Page: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

Afflicting the Comfortable Nazareth Synagogue

Luke 4:21-30

And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” (Read the whole lesson)

Sermon

We are challenged today, our comfort is afflicted. Good News is meant to comfort the afflicted, but today the comfortable are challenged to change… and this is Good News. It is hard to hear, it unsettling and even rises up our anger, but it is still Good News. As we work and strive to find our place in the world, as well as our place in the pews here… all that is overturned right in front of our eyes.

For us it was last week, but for Jesus and the people of the Nazareth Synagogue, it was only moments ago that he stood before them and boldly proclaimed that the Spirit of God had anointed Jesus to preach good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed and forgiveness of debts in the Jubilee year. And then Jesus sat down and preached that “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”. And today, we get to see and hear the response he gets – and its not nice.

After hearing Jesus’ nice sermon, the people are amazed, they are comforted in the midst of their cushy seats in the Nazareth synagogue. They marvel that here, Joseph the carpenter’s son has such beautiful words. They imagine beautiful scenes of their lives being eased, of the burdens laid down and their bumps and bruises soothed. But this is NOT the sermon that Jesus is preaching… he has not come back to his home town to sooth his friends and family. Jesus has come to preach about real suffering, about real change and about real people.

(Pause)

Grace was working her job waitressing job, about to take payment from a customer. The woman was frantically digging through her purse trying to find her wallet and money. Her child was tugging on her sleeve begging to leave. Grace gestured to the side and asked her if she wanted to take a minute while others paid, but the woman didn’t seem to understand and only got more agitated. The scarf that covered nearly all of the woman’s head but her face was beginning to come loose as she looked for something to pay her bill with. The woman looked up at Grace and started explaining, but doesn’t realize she was speaking Arabic.

Behind the woman, Grace could hear other customers complaining,

“These immigrants expect a free handout when they come here”

“Why does she wear that thing on her head? Nobody in this country cares if you see a woman’s head!”

“You should have to learn English to be allowed into Canada!”.

(Pause)

Jesus comes down on the people of the Nazareth Synagogue and he comes down hard. He has come to preach the good news to them also, but they cannot see past the energetic 10 year old running around town playing with the other boys and helping out with his father’s carpentry. They cannot see that Jesus is not Joseph’s son at all. And this is why Jesus comes down hard, Jesus is confronting their complacency, confronting their understanding of the world, and using strong and bold words to do it.

God provides food for Elijah and the widow. God heals Naaman in the Jordan river from his leprosy, just as Elisha said would happen. Jesus reminds the people of their own history, of the prophets who had already come to bring good news and Jesus reminds them of a condemning fact… Elijah was sent to a gentile woman, to a pagan widow and her son. Elisha healed a Syrian with leprosy, a solider and a conqueror. Jesus reminds the comfortable folks of Nazareth that God send prophets to heal outcasts and sinners, gentiles and the unclean… the Messiah is not just coming to make the lives of the righteous and chosen people easier.

Jesus would get us jumping out of our seats too if he were preaching here today. He would remind us that his own body and blood, that the bread and wine we share today, is not just to feed 5th generation prairie German, Icelandic or Norwegian Lutherans, but that Christ has come to feed the poor, the outcast, children, the old, the mentally ill and the sick. He would tell us that healing and reconciliation is also for immigrants, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, women, visible minorities.

But when Jesus afflicts the comfortable he doesn’t go halfway. Jesus challenges the people of the Nazareth and challenges us to see where, in our hearing, God is at work. Jesus is saying that God’s work happens with more kinds of people than imagine, AND also happens with us, amongst us, through us. Jesus demands our participation in God’s work. Jesus dares us see how we fit into the work of God right her and now. This pokes us in our comfort zone and makes defensive. We are the ones already here, what more does God want from us? But for Jesus being here is only the first step. Jesus sees the gospel working through us for the poor, the blind, the imprisoned, oppressed and indebted.

But this is not what the people of Nazareth came to hear, Jesus is challenging their comfort and they get enraged and they decide to hurl Jesus off a cliff. But he escapes. Yet, the rage of the people will catch up with him. From today onward, Good Friday is in our horizon as Jesus barely escapes execution by a mob. The rage of the Nazarites is the same rage that will shout “crucify him”, the same rage that will nail his wrists and feet to a cross. But that time is not yet. Resurrection is still coming and the people of Nazareth haven’t seen the fulfillment of God’s promises yet…God’s promises that include more than Ancient Hebrews and Prairie Lutherans. God’s promises that transform us, and we become less comfortable the more we hear them.

But the rage of righteous entitlement, the rage that believes it deserves God’s love and that is willing to put God to death for changing the rules… Today, this rage loses its power, and God’s power to free, to release, to heal, to feed, and to forgive steps out of the shadows and stands in our midst, it defies our attitudes, escapes being hurled into oblivion and continues on with its mission.

(Pause)

As the poor woman standing at the counter, realized that she had forgotten her wallet, the tears began streaming down her face. Voices behind continued to mutter and complain. And then all of a sudden two 20 dollar bills appeared on the counter, and a smiling face was standing next to her. Grace recognized Marlena from church at St.David’s

“Here take this, and pay for your meal.” Marlena said. “You don’t know me, but I have seen your family walking down the street, you are my neighbour”.

With tears still streaming down her cheeks, the grateful muslim woman reached out and took the hand of this kind stranger, thanking her profusely in arabic.

(Pause)

Today, the Good News hurts us, as we see ourselves in the folks of the Nazareth Synagogue. But its still Good News anyways, as we discover again that God’s love is not based in our comfort, in what pew bears the shape of our behind, but rather its based in God’s openness to a world full of imperfect variety. And God’s love is happening right here and now.

Jesus takes two stories of God’s great compassion and uses them in a new way. Jesus reminds the comfortable folks of Nazareth and comfortable Lutherans of the prairies that God’s love is so much broader than we can imagine. Jesus pushes our comfort zones and enrages us. And still despite our attitudes, despite our rage at being challenged, Jesus promises reconciliation and healing, for which we are given front row seats. For today Jesus has proclaimed that along with God’s chosen people, lepers and gentiles, widows and pagans, and immigrants to a foreign land…  we all are the beloved of God. Even if that makes us uncomfortable.

Amen. 

Jesus has not come to make us happy

Mark 1:29-39

…When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” … (Read the whole passage here).

Sermon

For the past 3 weeks, we have been setting the stage with Mark’s gospel. Setting the stage for what starts next week. Next week Jesus will go up the mountain of Transfiguration, with Peter, James and John. He will change before their eyes into dazzling white and God will instruct the disciples to listen to him. And then Jesus will go down into the valley of Lent, down into the wilderness of temptation, down the road to Jerusalem and his journey won’t end until he heads up that second mountain, the mountain of Golgotha, the mountain that ends in a cross.

But today we are still laying the ground work. Jesus has been preaching in synagogues, exorcizing demons and today we glimpse Jesus’ healing ministry. Jesus leaves the synagogue of Capernaum and goes to the house of Simon Peter and Andrew. There Simon’s month-in-law is sick and in a bed. Jesus takes pity on the poor woman and heals her… and in an almost comical moment, she gets up and starts serving her guests.

And then everything gets crazy. The whole town hears that Jesus the healer is there, and they all come clamouring for healing. Everyone with a cough or cold, with a limp or back pain, with short sightedness or epileptic seizures, they are all hoping to have their illnesses cured.

Jesus starts the work of helping the needy masses, and yet we get the sense that this is not what Jesus is interested in. He isn’t playing doctor happily, and by early morning, he sneaks away to get some quiet and space. Jesus must have been wondering where all these people were when he was preaching in the synagogue.

And this is the dilemma that Jesus faces all the way through Mark’s gospel, the problem that Jesus faces all the way to the cross. When Jesus is healing people and exorcizing demons, the crowds flock to see him. But when he preaches the Kingdom of God coming near, people get upset. The authorities feel threatened. When Jesus brings his message to the people, the people get uncomfortable and begin to turn on him. They like it when they are getting something from Jesus, but when Jesus proclaims and declares change and transformation on their end, they back away and get upset. It is all well and good to be healed of a chronic condition, but suggest that the way the world works might change and people get antsy.

As Jesus spends the night healing in frustration, we can see a problem that still exists among people of faith today. God is easy to for us to seek out when we need something. When we need help, healing, comfort, God seems like an easy ask. When are in trouble, or have problems for which there seems to be no easy solution, we turn to God with relative ease.

As people of faith, it is all too easy for the ways we experience God to become about us. God becomes something we expect to be doing something for us. When life throws us those curve balls we turn to God to heal our hurts and pains, to solve our broken relationships and strained families. But even in our day to day, week to week, Sunday to Sunday relationship with God we can start to expect God to be doing something for us. We like to experience God on our terms. As people in the pews our terms might include the right music, entertaining sermons, 60 minute services, comforting bible readings and prayers, cushy seats. As pastors we like to deliver God on our terms, with liturgies planned to our liking, in bible texts that make the points we like to make, in prayers and hymns chosen to fit our themes.

When we don’t stop to think about it, it is easy to fall into the pattern of expecting that God is all about satisfying us, that we come to God waiting to be filled up, entertained, healed, set right and made comfortable.

But that is not what Jesus has come to do. Even still, as he spends all night attending to the masses as they demand to be healed, Jesus can only take so much. Jesus declares,

Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.

That is what I came out to do.

Not to spend his time healing and exorcizing demons. But preaching the message.

Jesus has come to preach the message that Kingdom of God has come near, and that is not what the people are clamouring for. The people want their problems solved, they want comfort and healing, the want to be free from demons and evil spirits, they want things to go back to normal, things to be easy, things to be better. And what is the matter with Jesus? Why couldn’t he just stay a couple extra days, or a week and heal everyone? Is that to much to ask?

The issue that we discover today is this convergence of what the people want and what Jesus has come to do. The people want their symptoms treated, and Jesus wants to address the root of the problem.

It is far too easy for us to make God and faith and church about us. It is easy for us to come to God clamouring for healing and comfort, clamouring for God to approve of us and our ways of being in the world.

And that is not to say that Jesus is not the great healer, or that God doesn’t love us deeply just as we are. But God has bigger plans for us than comfortable pews and our favourite music. Jesus does so much more than make our fevers go away, or relieve us of our back pain.

Jesus has a message to preach. “The Kingdom of God has come near.”

And Jesus’ message cuts right to root of our issues. Jesus has come to deal with the source of our hurts and pains, of our griefs and sorrows. Jesus has come to address the reasons we put ourselves first, others second and God last.

Jesus has come to deal with sin and death. To deal with our sin, with our death. Jesus came come to meet sin and death by coming near. By coming near and joining with us in our sin, by taking on our death. And Jesus comes near to show us that sin and death are not the end. We are not here to be on palliative care, to only be comforted and relieved of our pain. Because that is what relieving us of our hurts and pains is. Because that is what comfortable faith is. Palliative care.

But Jesus has come to do the hard work of saving us. Saving us from ourselves, our self-centred, self-interested, deathly ways. And that is what Jesus has come to do.

That is what Jesus is doing.

Saving us from ourselves.

Amen.

Anchorman Christianity: 9 steps to giving people what they want

I have been blogging about evangelicals and their drama a fair bit lately, and about how they could use a little more mainline Christianity in their lives. But mainliners have problems too.  As the mainline struggles with declining numbers, finances, clergy numbers, etc… I have seen many churches trying anything to get people to stay, to come back, to be seen. These efforts have resulted in a trend that I have been trying to name, and I have finally come up with something:

Anchorman Christianity.

Now, the movie Anchorman is not for everyone, it is crass humour paired with the absurd, but it speaks to this trend. Anchorman 2 recently came out, and if you watch this trailer, you will get what I am talking about at 0:50. (Warning: the trailer contains offensive themes).

The main character, Ron Bergundy played by Will Ferrell says,

“Why do we have to tell the people what they need to hear? Why can’t the news be fun? Why can’t we give them what they want to hear?”

Anchorman is not just crass humour, it is also (at times) brilliant satire.

We all grow weary of the 24 hour news cycle, and the fight for ratings and views, which earn advertising dollars. But we kid ourselves to think that this “Give the people what they want, instead of what they need” attitude hasn’t crept into Christianity in North America.

And let’s face it, it works. It gets people to tune in, click the link or sit in the pew. It makes people happy, and there is nothing that feels better to church leaders than a room full of happy people. As a pastor, it is really hard to insist on giving people what they need, it can be way easier to give them what they want.

Giving people what they want can be done in these 9 easy steps:

1. Easy answers. People don’t need good teaching and preaching, they want easy answers. Just offer people a list of concrete easy-to-follow advice, they will not only love it, they will it repeated so they can write it down.  Look at all the internet lists out there, “10 easy ways to…” etc… We all click on them. Heck, that is why this post has that a title like that. Concrete advice is so much easier than in-depth explorations of our faith, theology, history and ethics. Don’t waste time helping people grow or learn, or to live with tension and complexity. The most recent young earth creation debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye had a “give them what they want” ethos written all over it.

2. Give them outrage. People don’t need to me telling them about complex problems, people want to be mad at something. We are biologically inclined to respond more viscerally to negative emotions like anger. The media knows this well. It is way easier to preach outrage about taxes, government regulations, other religions, political agendas, or the evils of being rich than it is encourage people to grow in empathy and compassion. Seeing the ‘other’ as human or seeing issues as problems we are called to do something about takes work, and a good measure of God’s help. Who has the energy to be calm, collected and compassionate? Outrage is easy.

3. The Bible they know. People don’t need me to tell them what the Bible really says, they want to hear what they think it says. God helps those who help themselves. Cleanliness is next to Godliness. To thine own self be true. Love the sinner, hate the sin. Money is the root of all evil. This too shall pass. Spare the rod, spoil the child. Most people think they know what is in the Bible, why tell them otherwise? Besides it is a lot easier for preaching when you don’t have to explain what the Bible is actually saying, no one wants to hear that anyways. It is more convenient to preach from the bible of old wives tales and clichés, than the 66 books we used to know.

4. Someone to blame. Terrorists, gangs, the poor, those in power, gays, immigrants, ethnic minorities, liberals, conservatives, children, the sick, the elderly, women. People don’t need to know that their problems likely have complex sources (with themselves at the centre), they want to hear who they can blame for their problems. So let’s stop trying to help people see the pervasive effects of sin in the world, or the suffering and brokenness of others around us. Instead, let’s blame people for their own problems and and let’s blame those ‘others’ for our problems too.

5. Approval but no oversight. It can be really tiring to say ‘no’ as a pastor. People don’t need to hear it, especially when they want to hear ‘yes!’ Can we read from “The Secret” instead of scripture in worship? YES! Can the youth sing Justin Bieber songs during the offering? OF COURSE! Is it okay to have a bible study on Chicken Soup for the Soul Vol. 3? NO PROBLEM! Can’t we just not mention God in church anymore? GOOD IDEA! It can be a lot of work to help people understand why Christians do the things we do. It is way easier to just let people do the crazy things they want.

6. The promise of getting rich. People do not need to hear that God doesn’t like people getting rich, they want to hear that God makes us rich. The biggest churches in North America make the promise that God will bless us with wealth if we only have enough faith (and give lots of money to the pastor). It would be way easier to tell people that God wants to give us lots of money if we want it enough, and at our basest level we want to hear that. It can be real bummer to talk about how Jesus was kind of a poor dude, and that God is not cool with extreme wealth or extreme poverty.

7. Car chases, puppy dogs and celebrity gossip. People don’t need to hear about all the depressing reality of the world, you know like real political, economic, social issues and what God has to do with that stuff. They don’t want to hear about suffering or sadness. So slap some kittens on the powerpoint, use the latest episode of ‘the Bachelor’ as a sermon illustration, use bible study time to watch the latest pop culture movies. It doesn’t really matter if people can’t tell the difference between Jesus and Jay-z, or Matthew and Matthew McConaughey, or Mary Magdalene and Miley Cyrus.

8. Avoid conflict at all costs. People don’t need to know how to have healthy relationships, they come to church to get what they want. Never ever challenge church people. Always do what they want. Always give in. Never fight. Maintaining principles, challenging bullies, standing up for justice just causes conflict. Conflict causes anxiety. And anxiety is really stressful. Pastors burn out on that stuff. It is way easier to just avoid conflict altogether. Churches that avoid conflict can last for decades before all the unresolved issues blow up in their face. Who wants to deal with issues all the time, when you can just deal with all of them at once every few years?

9. Nostalgia. People don’t need to practice living in reality, they want to live in the world that they fondly remember. Give them sappy, emotionally manipulative drivel. People want to be reminded of the world they once had and loved. They want to relive the same Christmas Eve service every year, it doesn’t matter the same kid has been a sheep for 7 years, or baby Jesus can shave now. People come to church because of how great it once was, they don’t want to waste time imagining what it could be in the future. Looking forward means change, looking back means everything stays the same. Change is hard, why change?

So, now that you know these 9 steps, please don’t follow them.

Long before Anchorman 2 came out, I had been adopting a motto for ministry. “I am not here to give you what you want, I am here to give you what you need.” It is a bold stance to take as pastor these days. You don’t have to spend much time reading the Christian internet, watching TV preachers, or even seeing some local churches in action. It is way easier as a pastor, as church leadership, as church people to give people what they appear to want. Giving people what they want gets results,  higher ratings and more butts in pews. But it is disingenuous faith. It results in “worshiptainment”, it creates “church consumers” instead of church members”, it allows people to stay stagnant in faith, instead of growing in relationship with that Jesus.

And speaking of Jesus, he wasn’t all that interested in giving people what they want was he?

Nope, he was all about what we really need.

So should churches care about what people want? How does your church cater to getting more ratings? Share in the comments, or on Facebook or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

7 Reasons Church isn’t for You

church-clip-art-2As a Pastor, a lot of people tell me their thoughts about church. My parishioners, my friends, my family, strangers, young, old and everyone in between. People tell me what they like and what they don’t like. People tell my what should be changed and how to do things differently. They tell me what they are looking for when they ‘church shop’. People tell me why they aren’t attending as often and when they plan to get back in the habit.

Like just about everything else in world, Christians and non-Christians are consuming church. More and more, churches and pastors feel pressured to attract and captivate people – code language for entertain the people into the pews.

Well… maybe I am the first to say, out loud, what a lot of pastors would like to say:

Church isn’t for you.

Here are 7 reasons why church isn’t for you:

  1. The Music isn’t for you. We all have opinions on music. Contemporary or Traditional. Praise Songs or Hymns. Piano or Organ or Worship Band. Upbeat or slowed down. Music has a powerful effect on us, and so we want to hear the music, hymns, songs, and styles we like. But the music isn’t to appease our preferences. Music supports the bible readings. Music speaks to the church season or occasion. Music is supposed to help us tell God’s story, not be the same stuff we choose to hear all week on our iPods.
  2. The Preaching isn’t for you. Preaching is supposed to be funny, interesting, and attention grabbing. Sermons should make us laugh and cry, learn and think. All in 20 minutes or less so that we are not late for lunch. Sermons are a central part of worship, and we want them to be things we want to hear. But preaching isn’t to appease our need to be entertained. Preaching opens up the scriptures to us. Preaching draws us into the unfolding story of God’s mighty deeds in the world. Preaching reminds us that we are sinners, which is hard to hear. Preaching reminds us that we are dead, which is even harder to hear. But Preaching also reminds us of God’s mercy for sinners. And Preaching reminds us of God’s promise of new life in Christ.
  3. The Building isn’t for you. Buildings are supposed to fit all our needs with comfortable pews, big gyms, space for youth, Sunday School classrooms,  nice bathrooms and lots of space for coffee after worship. Churches build, renovate and adapt their spaces to meet our demands. Often a few volunteers toil away, year after year to keep buildings in good repair. I once heard a church member say, “Being at Church should feel like being in your living room”. But Buildings are not for serving our comfort. Buildings provide space for people to gather. Buildings allow communities to be together. Whether it is hard pews or folding chairs, whether it is a rented school gym or a re-purposed store front, buildings help us tell God’s story by giving us a place to tell it. The Church is the people, not the building. Imagine if we put the same effort into caring for each other as we do for our buildings.
  4. The Staff isn’t for you. Churches spend most of their budgets on staff, and so we often have high expectations. We want staff to be always available, ready to drop anything and be at the church to attend to the needs of members, renters, or visitors. Staff are expected to always be courteous and kind, yet they get a lot complaining and criticism. But church staff are not the hired help for churches. The staff’s job is to support the congregation as they live out God’s mission. Staff does the in-between jobs that allow people to serve Jesus. Church staff remind us that God’s work is done with our hands and feet, and that God’s work never ends.
  5. Communication isn’t for you. Churches are expected to make us aware of everything that is going on. We all want to be in the know, and we want to be kept informed. We expect Church communication to be working well – all the time. Whenever we feel out of the loop, we complain about ‘communication problems’. But church communication isn’t for keeping us in the gossip chain. Most churches these days inundate people with communication: Inserts in bulletins, announcements before and after worship, newsletters, poster boards, emails, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and more. Communication is a two-way street, there needs to be senders and receivers. Churches communicate to let their members and their communities know what God is doing in their little piece of the Kingdom. Churches communicate so that God’s mission can be lived out by members between Sundays.
  6. Visitors aren’t for you. We all want our pews full and offering plates overflowing. We want visitors to come and give money, become new members, serve on committees, and volunteer at the soup kitchen once in a while. And still, visitors are glared at for sitting our pew. Visitors are whispered about, yet not greeted when they come to worship. But visitors aren’t for making us feel better or doing our work. Visitor’s are people. People who have come to us seeking a community. People who are seeking God. Visitors are people who give us the opportunity to tell about the ways that God is working in our lives. Visitors are people with whom we can begin relationships with and people that we can invite into our lives.
  7. The Pastor isn’t for you. This one is a little personal. As a pastor I am expected to keep track of hundreds of families. I am supposed to know who is in the hospital, who is sick, who is shut-in at home without being told (because God is supposed to tell me directly). I am supposed to be on call 24/7, 365 days a year. I am supposed to be at every meeting and every church event. I am supposed to remember birthdays, anniversaries and other special occasions. I am supposed to celebrate every baptism and wedding, and grieve every funeral. I am supposed to have a great sermon every Sunday. I am supposed to attract the youth and get all the inactive members back. But Pastors are not for being Christians on behalf of the congregation. Pastors proclaim the good news and give out the means of grace in the sacraments. Pastors equip people for their ministry. Pastors help people to hear God’s call in their lives. Pastors help congregations live out God’s mission in the world. Pastors do what is good for the congregation, not what makes people happy.

Sometimes we forget why we are ‘The Church’ in the first place. Sometimes we treat the church like all the other things we consume daily in our lives, and so we try to shape and form the church in our own image. We want a church that meets our preferences, like personalized settings on our computer.

Yet, despite all that – despite us – God is still using The Church for God’s purposes. God is still doing God’s work in world, with or without us. Sometimes we just need to be reminded of that. Sometimes we just need to hear again:

Church isn’t for you.

You are for the Church.

So what do you think? Is Church really not for you? Are there other ways in which the ‘Church isn’t for you’? Share in the comments, or share on Twitter: @ParkerErik

Want more lists of churchy things?

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